'Mister Marvelous' eau de parfum
It's hard to even begin to describe legendary hairmaster Christiaan Houtenbos. He has too many impressive accolades to list, but its fair to say that without him, the sparkly glint of the Studio 54 disco ball would shine considerably less bright and that many of fashion's most revered photographs—from then and now—might not be quite so memorable.
Born the eldest of 12 in a small Dutch village, the story goes that Christiaan (birth name Piet), spent his childhood working alongside his father in the family barbershop. As training, his father would draw a line across the client's head and Christiaan would cut across it. Once he proved his capability, he was entrusted to take care of the whole head.
It was assumed that Christiaan would eventually take over the family business, but a mandatory stint in the Dutch Marines in the ‘60s irrevocably changed the course of his life forever. While stationed in Aruba, he cut the hair of some women he met by chance and one of them liked her new look so much, that she wrote a letter to the then editor of Glamour, Amy Greene. In a remarkable case of mistaken identity, Greene confused the woman with Lotte Lenya, a famous Broadway star and the wife of a well-known German composer, and immediately flew Christiaan to New York. Within days he met Vidal Sassoon and Michel Kazan and within weeks he was offered a job at Coiffures Americana, a buzzy hair salon in Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue. "Every step of the way, I slipped like a fish," says Christiaan when we speak at his New York apartment.
News of Christiaan's talent spread and soon the then 20-year old was coiffuring the most prestigious heads in Manhattan, all of whom favoured his modern approach. "I did and still do have an archaic, absurd passion about making people have a nice relationship with their hair," he offers by way of explanation. "All of these women came from tortuous '50s relationships and Hollywood glamour shit, I just wanted them to connect to their hair. It was such an answer to a problem that it then became a fashion." Shortly thereafter, Christiaan's carefree approach caught the eye of the editors at Vogue and his fate was sealed.
Here's where at least a small list of Christiaan's most legendary haircuts and career highlight's seems appropriate in order to gage the scope that his scissors and hairdryer have reached. For example, he worked exclusively with Arthur Elgort in the '80s, did the hair for those black and white Peter Lindbergh photographs of the original supermodels in the '90s, and was the man in charge of Posh and Becks' bleached crops in the early 2000s. More recently, he dreamed up Freja Beha Erichen's much-imitated fringe, Daria Werbowy's bob a la Celine Spring 2013, and Sienna Miller's pixie-cut. In non-fashion related highlights, he gave Debbie Harry her infamously layered Blondie crop, Grace Jones the flat top Afro that's on the cover of Clubbing (she knocked at his door in the middle of the night demanding he do so—the two are neighbours), and Florence Welch's pre-Raphaelite red also bears his touch.
Another cult Christiaan story refers to the time he gave his son Hank a pixilated style he called "the digithead" in 1991. "It was a new way of cutting hair and so I decided to give it out for free in Central Park," he recalls. "I must have given 60 haircuts that day." He has since staged similar events, the most recent one in 2014.
Christiaan has since retired from creating runway looks, but during the '70s and '80s he traveled extensively from New York to London, Milan, and Paris, and back again every season. "Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Rei Kawakubo, Stephen Sprouse, Marc Jacobs—they were all fabulous," he recalls. "I have worked with so many people that I love and respect that it's hard to single out any one personal highlight. If you have a good time in life, it's very appealing and every job becomes a pleasure."
Of course part of this pleasure is down to Christiaan himself. He is charming, eccentric, and most definitely a flirt, but above all he is kind, engaged, and interested. He still speaks with a Dutch accent despite his 40-plus years in New York and still considers himself a proud product of Holland—a fact most illustrated by his propensity to wear something orange at all times of the day. "Right now, I have an orange hat, but for years I had orange pants," he states. "The guy who was in charge of Gap sent me a box of them and I wore a pair every day until they all wore out." Also of note on Christiaan's personal appearance is, naturally, his hair. At the time of the interview it was recovering from a self-inflicted drunken bleach disaster which turned it all blue, but it's also been shaven, dreadlocked, and colored more or less every shade under the sun. "My hair's always an evolving thing," he says casually. "What nicer way to experiment and figure things out than on yourself?"
As Christiaan continues to work on photo shoots and advertising campaigns every month (most frequently in collaboration with Mario Testino and husband-wife duo, Inez and Vinoodh), it's clear that he's as in-demand as he ever was. However, he has made a conscious decision to take his sixties a little bit easier. "I'm able to split the month so that I can go to the Hamptons and spend some time on my photography and ceramics," he says. "But hair will always be what I do."
By Elsa de Berker for Semaine.
'Mister Marvelous' eau de parfum
Orange wax bucket hat
Hockney Boy pot X Isaac Nichols
Apple Watch 38mm space black stainless steel case with black sport band strap
Paisley print swim shorts
Wynd writing desk
Nunk summer cotton jacket
Monogram and graffiti scarf
Ibery men's suede espadrille - blaze orange
Super Cool Colours - Washed Up Mermaid
Flying Point bench
City & Country
"I married my wife in the '70s and we were just looking for somewhere to live in New York that wasn't too expensive. At that time, the area near Broadway was horrible and nobody wanted the apartment. Now it's beautiful. Years later, my wife got the house in the Hamptons and now we split our time between the two. Our lives are in these homes and as we've grown older, they've evolved into magical places. There's no reason to ever move."
“If I wasn't a hairdresser, I could have been a poet, writer, journalist, or artist. Passion is at the centre of all art and all art is interconnected. I love to create ceramics in my spare time and I take photographs more or less every single day."
Ballpoint ink on metallic foil paper
34.3 × 28.6 × 3.8 cm
Graphite, charcoal, and pastel on paper
113 × 76.2 cm
Spit bite aquatint
63.5 x 61.0 cm
33 × 40.6 cm
91.4 x 71.1 cm
Ballpoint ink on 2 ply Bristol
13 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.
Christiaan's Orange Edit
"I left Holland when I was 18, but I am still a proud Dutchman. I make a point of going back to the motherland as much as I can. For 20 years, I only wore orange pants, but eventually they wore out, so now I've switch to an orange hat."
Orange Oasis: orange tulips
LomoInstant Marrakesh edition camera
Razor hand held LED torch
America in Space: NASA's First Fifty Years
Summer cotton 6 panel twill cap - orange
5 Hair Problems 5 Solutions
"All my life, all I've ever wanted to do it to make people feel good about their hair. Years ago, I was playing on the computer and I made a saying that says 'It is my hair okay.' It's a statement to remind people that they can do what they want with their looks. So follow your intuition, don’t worry too much, and don't forget that it is your hair."
"Start with cutting your hair shorter than your routine and then let it pass beyond your routine and comfort zone.”
"Always up? Let it down. Always blunt cut? Give it a shaggy edge sometimes. Always bangs? Clip them back”
"If you're addicted to the blow dryer let it dry naturally sometimes. And try to manipulate it by putting it up different ways, with headbands, rubber bands, just hats etc."
"The label can't tell you if it's right for you. Only your own hands can. If it feels good, it is good"
"When you love what you do, you find inspiration everywhere and in everything. It's very easy to be passionate about lots of different things when you enjoy life."
Rijks, Masters of the Golden Age
Amsterdam: A history of the world's most liberal city
Vermeer's Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery & the Unknown Apprentice
London 1000 Years
Mercator: The Man who Mapped the Planet
Around the World with Christiaan
"Hairdressing is my passion and through it I have been able to go on so many fantastic journeys throughout the world. It's the best job because I just go places, eat delicious food, meet nice people, play with some hair, and then go home again."
Adidas x Kolor woven jacket - solar orange/ bold aqua
Mile high gift set
Dark Grey Wool Slipper
Lightening-to-usb cable keychain
Classic four-wheel flight suitcase 78cm